Adjusting to Blindness - Going Through the Seven Phases of Grief
Some time ago I was speaking to a blind woman. I found myself marveling at her exuberance and confidence. She was talking about her activities like the Spanish class she was taking and the recipes she found online and was dying to go home and try. I had a burning question but I was afraid to ask. Having experienced some vision loss myself, I have first- hand knowledge of how dealing with vision loss can be extremely difficult. So, I was curious to find out just how did she manage to cross those hurdles and get to such a state of happiness and independence. Finally, I just asked, “Excuse me but you seem so confident, did you ever go through depression while adjusting to blindness?”
The lady was a little taken aback by my question but she proceeded to answer me. She said of course she went through depression when adjusting to blindness. She told me at times she became frustrated and angry as the greatest pet peeve she had was the fact that she could no longer do things for herself as she was accustomed to. Now she had to rely on others to help her when they could. She said that was the most annoying part as, by nature, she was impatient and did not like waiting. So waiting on others was a challenge. “But what was I to do? I had to get over it.” She explained that her being angry was not going to change anything, she simply had to learn that dealing with blindness was now a reality.
My own road of dealing with vision loss was no walk in the park either. I have never really known perfect 20/20 vision. At the age of seven I was diagnosed with “Glaucoma” and it was already in an advanced state. The ophthalmologists recommended surgery for both eyes. Still I had pretty good sight. I was now near sighted and had to take eye drops every day and wear glasses but I still went to regular school.
The vision stayed like this for a while. However, during the latter part of my university days, the vision in the right eye, which was the better eye, started to take a turn for the worst. The intra-ocular pressure started to balloon out of control despite the doctor’s efforts with several different types of medication. I could see that the vision was going, my field of view just seemed more blurry and dazzling. I almost got hit by a car one day as I did not realize that I had only tunnel vision in my right eye. I remember always fretting to my spouse about my condition many times. Could I really be dealing with blindness? I underwent surgery again and thereafter the vision was never the same.
The months after that felt like a very confusing blur. I was not sure what to do with myself. I was not completely blind but I could no longer see certain details such as the features of a person’s face or the words on a piece of paper to read. Are there places to help with my specific condition?
I needed help in dealing with vision loss. I contacted one of the organizations for the blind in my country and after speaking with a field officer I felt hopeful. I did not need a cane just yet, I could take braille to read and I could learn how to use the computer with the help of a screen reader. I took a leave of absence from school and launched right into these options. At this juncture, I do not think that I fully grasped the gravity of the situation. I was still thinking there is nothing much wrong, I can fix this. I just need to finish school, gain employment and move on with my life. That was not to happen.
After finishing the computer and braille classes and also finishing university, I began looking for work. That is where I cracked. I got calls based on the quality of my resume but when it was apparent that I had a disability, I was treated with much disdain. I slowly sank into a deep depression. I did not want to get out of bed, did not want to go anywhere for fun, I just did not want to face the world. I had bouts of anger; I was angry at everyone around me, angry at God. I even threatened to tear up my university degree because as far as I was concerned it made no sense for me to be in possession of it. It was a hard time.
Though my depression period was difficult, there are others who took dealing with blindness even harder. At least I so far have some vision still left [we all know of how glaucoma steals sight slowly], at least I have known of my visual problems for a while. On the contrary, for a blind man I spoke to, it took him by complete surprise. One day he was riding on his bike, something hit him in the eye and he developed glaucoma which eventually blinded him in both eyes. He said he took it hard when he lost his vision. He was use to taking care of himself, hustling to earn for himself and his children. What was going to happen to him now?
He said he felt like he could not manage adjusting to blindness. He then continued to tell me the morbid story of how he had planned to take his own life. His father has a property with a cave on it. He Said he had gone an bought a rope and had planned to go into the cave and hang himself. I almost cried when I heard the story. He was not dealing with blindness well at all.
What are the seven stages of grief?
Whenever a person faces some form of loss, whether it is a loss of a loved one, loss of a job, the ending of a romantic relationship or in this case loss of vision, that person may go through a series of emotional reactions. These different emotional phases or stages are called the seven phases of grief. It is a normal pattern of emotions and once you understand them the better you will be at beating this horrible period or helping someone to get through it. These phases are: shock/disbelief, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression and acceptance. Before we look at these seven phases of grief independently, we must note first that persons going through this emotional rollercoaster do not necessarily follow through the stages in order. The order of the stages or the length of time spent in any one phase varies from person to person.
Shock/disbelief and Denial
When one faces some type of loss the first reaction is usually shock, followed by denial. It is like an automatic defense mechanism we put up trying to avoid the anxiety and worry that the new situation is presenting. This is not really happening, I am going to fix this, you will see. I definitely went through this period. I did not really understand and would not really allow myself to fully understand the new situation I was now in. I went about trying to fix it and thought everything would be the same; I mean I never really had perfect vision, so this too I can deal with. Actually having to go out there and seek employment pushed me quickly into reality.
Then you get angry. Angry at God for allowing such misfortune to befall you, angry at people, both close to you and otherwise, because they can see and you cannot; angry at the ophthalmologist’s, did they do the best they could do? You blame everything external for this happening to you.
I do not remember much about myself going through this stage. However, I have spoken to other visually impaired persons who speak of how they went through this weird, unrealistic period of bargaining with God. You feel helpless against the forces that have rendered you visually impaired so you bargain with them instead. If I get my vision back, I will give up something else. It never works.
Now you turn the spotlight on yourself. Maybe I did not take the medications properly, maybe I should not have done surgery, Maybe God is punishing me for something I did. Is He punishing me?
After going through all the aforementioned stages, the reality still remains. You are visually impaired, it is not going away. The person may become overwhelmed and sink into depression. Of all the seven phases of grief, This is probably the most dangerous stage as persons could harm themselves trying to get over the pain. All the feelings of bewilderment could also lead to other health problems such as hypertension.
When a visually impaired person pulls through depression, they will then arrive at the acceptance phase. They become less emotional about their vision loss and now accept the reality of it. It is at this stage that someone will begin to seek out help, trying to find methods that will help them to move on with their life with this disability. Acceptance does not mean defeat, rather it demonstrates how courageous you are since you are capable of continuing life considering your disability not as a crotch but as a lesson from which you have learnt.
What are the seven stages of grief?
Individual cannot fathom what is happening; he is frightened by the reality
Individual refuses to accept reality and goes on with life as if nothing has changed
He becomes angry at the world; blames everything and everyone external for his misfortune
The grieving person now begins to offer something else, in exchange for his calamity, to a supernatural being he believes is in control
He now turns the spotlight on himself; he blames himself for his troubles
Most dangerous stage; the grieving person is miserable and wants to give up
The individual finally comes to grip with the new situation and understands that moving on and learning is the way to go
How to go about adjusting to blindness
Dealing with vision loss is a very difficult task, believe me I know. You are unable to see what is going on around you, you bump into furniture in your house even though you had been living there for ages, you cannot see people’s expressions, you can no longer read your favourite books and the list goes on. however, not only is it possible for you to overcome but you can also soar to the greatest heights and achieve your goals in this life. I mean, right now in my country Jamaica, a blind man is now the president of the Senate! Here are just some things to keep in mind while going through the seven phases of grief:
keep positive people around you. Family members, if you have someone who is visually impaired do not just leave them alone to go through this. They need you. I believe that my family played an integral role in helping me cope.
Talk to other visually impaired people who have already gone through the process and are doing well. Keep close to them and draw inspiration from them.
Research all the assistive technologies now available for the blind. There are so many now, visually impaired persons have never been more independent. I once had a friend remark that being blind is one of the best disabilities because there is just so much technology now to help us with adjusting to blindness. What do you think?
If you, or anyone you know, are staying too long in the depression phase get professional help. Please seek a counsellor, Visual impairment does not have to destroy you.
Dealing with blindness or visual impairment is hard but it is not the end of the world. Join the millions across the world who have conquered this condition and are moving on for the better. If you take time to understand the seven phases of grief , figure out which phase you are in and take your time in adjusting to blindness, you too will be triumphant.
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Did you or anyone you know fall into deep depression because of visual impairment?
- Living With Blindness - My Story By Joy Ross - YouTube
Listen to Joy Ross' motivating story of overcoming blindness.